Meditation; JiuJitsu for the Mind feat. Sam Harris

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Neuroscientist and meditation teacher Sam Harris gave a great breakdown in this interview about how the skill of meditation can be a lot like JiuJitsu, for the mind.

“(Meditation) is a lot like JiuJitsu, for the mind. What’s so beautiful about JiuJitsu in particular, is that you can have this massive effect in the domain of violence, whilst being relaxed. It is what Aikido advertises itself to be. But it’s a much more, at least in my estimation, effective version of that same underlying ethic. You can control someone, and use as little violence as necessary, and basically just use a superior knowledge of physics, leverage, and position, against them. It can be incredibly relaxed and yet given what the circumstance is, it can be a very high testosterone experience, it’s not a quintessentially masculine thing to be doing.

But you can internalise the same sort of structure, and that’s largely what meditation is. Basically, the default state is one of being attacked and ambushed, all the time, by your thoughts, by your reactivity, by being taken in by assumptions and illusions, and not knowing it. You’re in a fog. Even when you learn to meditate, you’re in this fog most of the time. So the practice is one of continually breaking the spell. You are constantly on the ‘mat’, constantly finding yourself in some position of disadvantage. All of a sudden, there’s a rear-naked choke three-quarters applied, and you need an answer for that. Not knowing the answer is just synonymous with death; you’ll be as miserable as circumstances dictate.

The sense of Self for most of us, is not the feeling that we are identical with our bodies. Most people don’t feel identical with their physical bodies, they feel like they’re passengers inside their bodies. My body’s down here, these are my hands, these are my legs, obviously I care about these things, these are where my pains and pleasures are coming from but I’m up here, in the head, and I’m kind of a passenger. I’m a witness of this.

Most people when they try to pay attention, when they try to find themselves, when they try to meditate, they feel that they’re a locus of attention in the head, behind their face, behind their eyes, looking out at the world, and the world is not self. You’re over there, I’m looking across space at you, I’m here, behind my face. And my face is a kind of mask, really. I’m not indentical to my face. Its states matter to me. The signature of the emotion you’re feeling has a lot do with what you’re feeling on your face and it feeds back in to your mind. If you force yourself to smile, you actually feel a state of happiness coming in your mind. But people feel like they’re behind their face, in their head. And so that kind of homunculus, that person in the head, which we know doesn’t make any sense neurologically, there’s no place in the brain where there could be a little consciousness that is one thing, that is a stable self, that’s looking out through the eyes. There’s just a flow of experience that’s invoking many regions of the brain at all times. You are indentical to this flow of experience. This stream of consciousness is what you are, as a matter of subjectivity. I’m not saying that this is arising in the brain, that bodies aren’t real and there’s no physical universe. I’m saying that in the matter of experience, there’s just a flow of consciousness and its contents. Yet we seem to put this unchanging centre to it. What is giving us this feeling that there is an unchanging centre to this flow, is this contracted identification with thought. It is a kind of thought.

If I’m saying something, and it doesn’t make sense, or it sounds like bullshit, the experience in you which says, “Oh that’s not right!” – that feels like you. You’re not witnessing it as an object in consciousness just arise and pass away, it’s sort of come up from behind (your face) and it just feels like, “That’s me.” That thing is always happening, the ‘That’s me,” feeling is always happening. And so you just feel like you’re in your head behind your face. For two reasons. There’s two sides to this coin. So much of what we’re thinking is making us miserable. So much of it unpleasant. So much of it is causing anxiety. You look at your To Do list and you’ve got fifty things on it, you just feel like the day’s not long enough (and that’s a high class problem to have, right? There are worse problems.) This is the state we’re in. And the obverse to that is when we’re really just connecting with life, in a joyful, creative, beautiful way. When you look out the window and it’s the most beautiful sunset ever, and you are just looking at the sunset, you’re fully connected with its beauty, those are all moments where you’re losing this sense of Self. But the difference between meditation and those moments, is that you’re not really aware of losing the sense of self in those moments. You’re not really aware what is freeing about those moments. And you can’t do it in other circumstances; I need the beautiful sunset. Just looking at your shoe isn’t good enough for me. But with meditation I can actually look at your shoe in the same way that I look at the sunset.

What’s happening for most people is that they’re waiting for the world to give them a good enough reason to just be present, and to be present so fully that they just lose their sense of self. They’re no longer behind their face, they’re just waiting for something good to happen, or figuring out how to change the experience enough so, again, they’re no longer at war. To a greater or lesser degree, we’re always at war. We’re always fighting something. You’re always noticing something wrong, you’re feeling uncomfortable in your body, you’re reacting to something somebody did or thought they did, you’re navigating a social encounter that seems off-kilter and awkward and you’re trying to figure out what to say. You’re just being blown around and the moments where you really feel good, there is a moment of coming to rest, where it’s not about the past or future. It’s not about half a second ago, it’s not about half a second from now. And the ultimate version of that, entails the dropping of this sense of self.”

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